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Three Pillars of the Penitential Season of Lent: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving

Today is Ash Wednesday

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

cf. Distribution of Ashes

ash wednesday

In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. In Eastern Rite Catholic churches, Lent begins two days earlier, on Clean Monday.

Ash Wednesday always falls 46 days before Easter. Since Easter falls on a different date each year Ash Wednesday does too.

Quick Facts
Date: 46 days before Easter Sunday
Type of Feast: Commemoration.
Mass Readings: Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 12-13, 14 and 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Is Ash Wednesday a Holy Day of Obligation?
While Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, all Roman Catholics are encouraged to attend Mass on this day and to receive ashes on their foreheads in order to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.

The Distribution of Ashes
During Mass, the ashes which give Ash Wednesday its name are distributed. The ashes are made by burning the blessed palms that were distributed the previous year on Palm Sunday.

After the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water, the faithful come forward to receive them. The priest dips his right thumb in the ashes and, making the Sign of the Cross on each person’s forehead, says, “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” (or a variation on those words).

New York Catholics attend Ash Wednesday Mass; Andrew Renneisen / Getty Images

A Day of Repentance
The distribution of ashes reminds us of our own mortality and calls us to repentance. In the early Church, Ash Wednesday was the day on which those who had sinned, and who wished to be readmitted to the Church, would begin their public penance. The ashes that we receive are a reminder of our own sinfulness, and many Catholics leave them on their foreheads all day as a sign of humility.

Fasting and Abstinence Are Required
The Church emphasizes the penitential nature of Ash Wednesday by calling us to fast and abstain from meat. Catholics who are over the age of 18 and under the age of 60 are required to fast, which means that they can eat only one complete meal and two smaller ones during the day, with no food in between. Catholics who are over the age of 14 are required to refrain from eating any meat, or any food made with meat, on Ash Wednesday.

Taking Stock of Our Spiritual Life
This fasting and abstinence is not simply a form of penance, however; it is also a call for us to take stock of our spiritual lives. As Lent begins, we should set specific spiritual goals we would like to reach before Easter and decide how we will pursue them—for instance, by going to daily Mass when we can and receiving the Sacrament of Confession more often.

Credit: Richert, Scott P. "Ash Wednesday in the Catholic Church." Learn Religions, Aug. 28, 2020, learnreligions.com/ash-wednesday-in-the-catholic-church-542463.

Information herein posted under the "rules of fair use" to foster education and discussion in accordance with Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976.

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Lent reminds us, therefore, that Christian life is a never-ending combat in which the “weapons” of prayer, fasting and penance are used. Fighting against evil, against every form of selfishness and hate, and dying to oneself to live in God is the ascetic journey that every disciple of Jesus is called to make with humility and patience, with generosity and perseverance.”

Pope Benedict XVI, Ash Wednesday homily, 2006


Liturgical colour: violet

Violet is a dark colour, ‘the gloomy cast of the mortified, denoting affliction and melancholy’. Liturgically, it is the colour of Advent and Lent, the seasons of penance and preparation.

Credit: https://www.universalis.com/20210217/today.htm

During Lent, let us spend the gift of time seeking the wisdom of heart taught by self-sacrifice, so that, dead to sin, we may rise to new life in Christ, in whom death has died.”

from MAGNIFICAT, Ash Wednesday, Feb 17, 2021

Ash Wednesday - Ecclesiastes 3-20

This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Gospel of Mark 1:15

Holy Spirit - Dove

Holy Spirit, Light and Life of my Soul, enliven my prayer life.

Be not afraid!  And may the peace of Christ be with you and your loved ones today and always.  Holy Family, pray for us.  Amen.

The Holy Family, Murillo
The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities (c. 1675-82) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617 – 1682)

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